Biblical Text: Matthew 25:31-46 (Matthew 10:40-42)
This was the last Sunday in the church year, so we say good bye to reading Matthew. (Hence the fading to blue in the colors above, the color of advent.) Most of my sermons tend to be serials. They are one offs on the text of the day. And there are reasons for that, but the gospel is a story, a narrative. And sometimes you need to understand the full narrative. And that is the case with the Last Judgement. This sermon attempts to understand the picture of the last judgement with: Jesus in all his glory, All Nations and The brothers in the context of the full story.
Usually this text is used in a very law based way. Do these “works of mercy” and you’ll be with the sheep. And it isn’t a terrible message, but it isn’t the gospel. And the last judgment really does have a gospel message. And that is what this sermon attempts to proclaim.
Recording Note: We had a snafu on recording live, so this recording is an after the fact re-recording. Lessons and sermon only.
The text is the parable of the talents. And we often get lost in pondering the talents themselves. So much so that the word, which originally was just a measure of weight of precious metal, now means abilities. That gives us an insight into how this parable has shaped in influenced our very language.
But the parable really is not primarily about our actions, but about our beliefs that drive those actions. It wants us to ask what do we believe about our master, Jesus. Do we live in the grace and love of God such that we immediately try to do his will, working the talents? Or do we think he is “hard” and merciless? It is a parable that tells us about God and holds a mirror up to our heart’s understanding of God. Will we have such a Lord as Christ?
This parable has so much to teach us…if we don’t ask for it to teach us too much. That is always the trouble with eschatology, end times things. We want to know more that is ours to know.
The biggest thing I think it means to tell us is to know the time. It is a parable about the Day of the Lord, the time of fulfillment. As such the most important things in that time are different that today. Today things like wise and foolish are not locked in. Today is a day of grace. Today is a day when the oil may be procured and the lamps prepared. For the night is coming when no work may be done. Sleep comes to all. And that is why Jesus tells us this parable. Not that we might know everything about That Day, but so that we may prepare for it.
Looking at the word cloud I hope I didn’t abuse the pulpit today. When a name is bigger than Christ or Jesus or even a generic God, I get worried. That and nobody knows the Iliad, and the Brad Pitt movie didn’t really help, although Brad Pitt was the absolute perfect Achilles. Anyway, this sermon is a little more reflective of the text which is the last judgment. The last judgment scene tells me two things: a) what Christ is looking for from his sheep and b) the reality of final causes or end goals. It is these two things that are almost 100% in opposition to what the world at the time held out as reality. It is these two things that are becoming increasingly at odds with out world. What Christ is looking for is love of God expressed in love of our neighbor. Seeing Christ is the least. And what we do here matters, because we are made to meet our maker. We are made for glory, not fame.
In our current environment that call feel disappointing or oppressive, but that is the nature of life under the cross. The excellence of the Kingdom has nothing to do with the excellence of the world. The weight of the Kingdom is eternal while fame blows away.
So, this sermon might have been a little too narcissistic. I might have needed to hear it more than anyone else. But I do think it preaches the text in an honest and deep way, if not a direct way.
The text is the parable of the talents. We have trouble reading this today I think because the word talent itself has become on English word with a meaning. A specific gloss of this parable is part of our language just in the use of that word, talent. What this sermon attempts to do is hear the parable in parallel with last weeks, and not just accepting the embedded gloss. I did that because that embedded gloss skips the gospel. It delivers the moral punch without pondering the reason why. To me the talents is all about our big choice in this life. Who is God? Is God hard and capricious and untrustworthy, or his He full of steadfast love? Is the economics of the kingdom about scarcity or about love? The amount of talents, the returns, the numbers that catch our attention are so much yawn. What the Lord is interested in is the attitude of our hearts towards him. Do we trust him to do what he’s promised, or not? Are we fearful, or faithful?
The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.
Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.
The sermon text is the the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. The title of this post comes from a comparison I make between the parable, a famous psychology experiment and the situation of the Christian life. If you know the test, it is done leaving a toddler with a marshmallow and a promise. The comparison is made in questioning exactly what type of test this is: willpower, trust, taste or just a cruel joke. I think those are how many people would categorize the second coming of Jesus: a test of holiness, a test of faith, a factor of election or just a joke. The parable would say simply faith. All fell asleep ruling out holiness. The Wise actively prepared ruling out pure election. The bridegroom promises return ruling out joke for those who believe. The over-riding point is faith, with a secondary point of the necessary things to remain in the faith.
And the that secondary point is sticky point. Nobody can share their oil. How you prepare, how you keep faith, is up to you. The church can point at wise ways. It can point at foolish ways or ways sure to shipwreck the faith, but nobody can give you their oil. You must live your Christian life.
Program Note: I’ve left in more than the typical number of hymns as they seemed to record well and were tight with the overall theme. The choir sings Rejoice, Rejoice Believers. I then at that end leave in the hymn after the Sermon and the closing hymn: Rise, My Soul to Watch and Pray (LSB 663) and The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644) respectively. Take those two as a couple of the wiser ways of preparation.
I hate to say it, but this is an example of decent sermon prep that lacked editing and carry-through. At least 1 point two many. About a page and a half too long. And missing a story element. Although I do have to add that I’m amazed I didn’t see more yawns. Probably because I didn’t have it down enough to deliver it and was looking down at my paper too much to see them.
Ok, done beating myself up. At an intellectual and a personal piety level this text is a grenade. What I will say is that the Last Judgment from Matthew confronts and contradicts so many of our doctrinal and de facto pieties that it would be tough not to lapse into homiletic underwear and lecture. On its face the judgment is based on ethical reasons. If all you had was the last judgement from Matthew you’d have to say that Pelagius was the saint and Augustine then heretic. I think I describe the web of texts to evaluate that, to put it into the larger story, but it would be much better to have the bible open in front with the possibility for questions and conversation. Putting that aside, our culture in general has moved beyond that debate of works and grace. The phrase translated eternal punishment just isn’t believed by most people. There are different scriptural ways of addressing it that give due pause to abyss we are staring into, but most of America just doesn’t lend credence to the concept of hell. The way I typically describe it for bible study folks is that my impression is most of America has accepted the gospel without hearing the law. They don’t know what they are doing in other words. They take the cheap grace without pausing to think if it is fool’s gold.
The last part which dominates the sermon and would have been the core point is that we modern Americans just don’t understand monarchy. What lands the goats in fire is not that they are evil to their core. They answer Lord. They wonder when they haven’t been good. Thinking of a human King – arguing from lesser to greater – you can immediately see the times when it is what you didn’t do that got you in trouble. It is what you don’t do that typically brings into question the kind. If the King says – “do the will of my Father” and then you proceed to ignore the law completely…
So, I’m glad we have a lectionary that forces these texts. I’m also glad it only comes up once every three years.